Thor's China Diary

Letter from a Chinese Postgraduate

@2 March 2003

This letter from a friend, a Chinese postgraduate student, says much about the present state of Chinese universities. Initially my friend was refused admission for "failing" the political examination by one mark. Politics had nothing to do with the major of interest to her, but remains a compulsory subject, replete with archaic propaganda about "scientific socialism". No Chinese student with half a brain believes this stuff, but the rite of passage is still a potent weapon for extortion and intimidation, and a source of employment for dinosaur professors. In the backhanded way that propaganda works on intelligent human beings, these 'politics' courses may by the best possible innoculation that China's future leaders could have against reasserting the communist dogma in the next generation .. Of course, my friend didn't really fail. It was the usual under the table demand for a bribe..

I have deleted names and institutional references to protect the writer, but the content is otherwise unchanged except for some grammatical corrections.

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Dear Thor,

It's truly a long, long, long time since we communicated with each other. I think you will not forget who I am?

These three months have been just like a dream for me. After experiencing disappointment, frustration, sadness, so many tortures (maybe this word "torture" is too big to describe my experience; from some points of view, this is just a small case, but for me , it's so special.), I have become a graduate in this university. Now I study in the laboratory there; I live in the dormitory; I eat in the mess hall in; and I can have a share of everything - classroom, streets, trees and buildings. I feel that I have become the master of this campus. You will feel I am very crazy, right? But you know, the process of asking for enrollment is so difficult and special. Unfairness and guanxi (special connections) are so popular in China, and they also operate in the education system. Frankly speaking, I wanted to give up in the face of it. But my mum and another warm-hearted old couple encouraged me to stand up and strive for my own rights. I won, and got the enrollment. I should be very happy, right? Truly speaking, I don't have such a feeling.

The first problem is the financial pressure. I must pay for my own fees: 30,000 yuan for three years learning. As you know, there are two ways for the paying fees in China: the national (scholarship) payment and the individual payment. I belong to the latter. The graduates who can get the national payment are limited. Marks are important, and guanxi has a special effect. If I can get high marks, maybe I can save the money, but it's still not sure (regardless of marks). Do you think I am timid since I don't dare to try again?

You know, all the graduates in every college are going crazy now. More and more graduates select continuing study as their goals. The competition in the graduates' entrance examination is extremely fierce in China now. It's not because more people truly want to be scholars in the future, but because they are escaping the pressure of employment. Each one wants to get a good job - comfortable conditions, high salary, more chances to develop themselves. If they are not satisfied with the job and their own condition, the only way is continuing study. And some of them actually give in their resignation (from jobs) to prepare for the graduate entrance examination only. God save me! I dare not imagine how, when we graduate and get the Master's degree, there will still be fierce competition to find a job.

The second problem is about my future. The reason I changed my major is that I truly like this new major. I am interested in this major very much. But when others in my old major knew that I had jumped from a "hot" major to a "cold" one, they thought I was foolish and stupid, because the conditions of employment will not be so optimistic and the range of employment is narrow too, and the most important thing is the salary will be lower. Fortunately, I haven't regreted my choice. I prefer to spend time on learning more useful things, rather than spend energy and time on regrets. What do you think about that?

The last problem is that I am so tired to doing my part-time teaching in the language school. I have made a new friend. She is also an Australian, and I found out that she has many similarities with you - teaching kids everywhere and traveling all over the world. Both of you selected your own favorite life style, and you are happy. In my opinion, this is very important. Comparatively speaking, Chinese are shackled by traditional customs and thinking. They lead a tired and fettered life. So they are not happy about how they spend every day. There are two young Canadian guys working in that school. They don't have college diplomas but they can earn more than 6,000 yuan a month here (it's still unfair between foreigners and Chinese ..) They think it is not difficult for them to make a living by themselves. If they believe going to college is essential at some time, they will go back to campus no matter how old they are. It's totally different in China and Western countries; [late age entry is usually not possible in China TM]. There are so many obstacles to overcome here, and research is such a problem too. What I envy about you is that you are free!

 "Letter from a Chinese Postgraduate"  copyrighted to Thor May 2003; all rights reserved